As much as we may moan about these chilly dark days of late there are some unexpected bonuses...
This morning, it was very dark and cold-down to zero Celsius when I awoke and tottered sleepily downstairs. Even the cats preferred to stay in their bed-their thermostatically controlled heated bed I might add...only the best for them...
I settled down with my freshly brewed coffee to reply to a few emails-and many thanks again to those very kind people who have replied to my posts-and then the magic happened...
Slowly the sun rose and I belatedly worried about the visiting birds in my garden having enough food in this cold weather. Guiltily I slipped a jacket on and ‘braving’ the slippery frosty decking and steps went out to make sure all the bird feeders were full. I was aware the sun was coming up but was utterly amazed to see the sky so pink. The valley down in the distance was partially filled with a rolling cold mist and this together with the clear blue sky from the top of our hill, I think created this result. I hurriedly rushed back inside to grab the camera and managed to take a few shots. Within minutes, however, this beautiful dawn vista had finished but those few moments had been magical and glorious.
The top of my Laburnum (Golden Chain) tree silhouetted against the pink dawn sky
Back now to my lazy supper...
I have promised you my recipe for Pickled Balsamic Shallots, so here it is. As I have mentioned before, I am not a fan of most vinegars but so adore Balsamic vinegar. I was quite successful in growing shallots last year and had planned to use the very smallest ones to make this. Unfortunately when it came to it, most of the small ones had been eaten and mainly the medium sized ones remained. Not to be deterred, I cut the larger ones in half before pickling and have to say taste wise they are the best as they absorbed the balsamic pickling mixture the most and were succulent and juicy and also looked so much more attractive with their two tone brown and cream colour when decanted and in a little bowl to eat.
Balsamic Pickled Shallots
This recipe is loosely based on one I had collected from ‘The Hairy Bikers’ recipes.
If you don’t like the traditional pickled onion then do give this version a go. I used shallots from the garden, some of which I cut in half to better absorb the balsamic vinegar. The combination of both shallots and balsamic vinegar, I find sweeter and altogether more pleasing than the tradition onion picked in malt vinegar.
This recipe may not please the traditionalists but for my friends that I have given jars of this out as part of their Christmas present this year, it certainly seems to have gone down a storm!
900g small/medium shallots peeled and with the larger ones halved
1150ml balsamic vinegar
50g Maldon Sea Salt
1 large cinnamon stick
1 tbsp mixed spices-I used a mixture of allspice, black peppercorns and black mustard seeds which I lightly dry toasted then allowed to cool before using
3 tbsp of good honey-I used a local heather honey
You will need some clean, sterilised jars for storage-this recipe will make about 5- 1lb jars.
Place the peeled shallots, slicing the larger ones in half into a large bowl. Add the
salt and cover with water to draw out the moisture. Leave overnight.
Whilst this is happening, toast the spices and allow to cool, then place in a square of muslin with the cinnamon stick and tie up into a pouch.
Pour the balsamic vinegar in a large pan and bring gently to the boil. Place the bag of spices in it and then turn off the heat. Cover and leave also overnight.
The next day remove the muslin bag of spices and stir in the honey making sure it dissolves completely.
Drain the shallots and then pop them in the sterilised jars filling them just below the top.
Add the vinegar mixture to the jars making sure you cover the shallots at the top-you may need to push the shallots firmly down to make sure they don’t pop up and risk going mouldy when stored.
Seal the jars with a lid, label and store in a cool dark place for a good 6-8 weeks as they do need to mature.
Once opened, store in the fridge. Occasionally I find a larger shallot may have a tougher outer skin so I just remove that to get to the sweeter tender inside. When you have eaten all the shallots in the jar don’t waste the remaining vinegar but use it in a salad dressing or to de-glaze a roasting pan to make a gravy.
Do give these a try. They make a fabulous accompaniment to a Ploughman’s or just to a plain cheese sandwich if nothing else.
I’m also experimenting by using them in some ordinary recipes which just call for an onion just to add that little extra zap and zing...
And lastly for that smoky supper tonight
Welsh Smoked Soda Bread
I just love soda bread! It is ridiculously easy and quick to make-a whole loaf can be made and ready to serve in under an hour from start to finish-a winner in my book!
I am also though, looking for that something extra, and this soda bread made with smoked flour is that. The result does not have an overpowering smoky taste-it is very subtle-but the kitchen did have that appetising aroma of bread together with a rather wonderful ‘woodiness’ quality whilst baking it...
Most soda bread recipes are associated with Ireland and indeed I have had some very delicious soda bread there when visiting.
My Welsh version, though, uses flour from the lovely Welsh Bacheldre Mill, whose original water mill was built in 1575. www.bacheldremill.co.uk
Their organic stone-ground malted blend of flour is then cold smoked over oak chips to produce their Organic Stone-ground Oak Smoked Flour. For those that don’t live locally, I have found it at Waitrose and now, incredibly, on Amazon! Other retailers are of course, available...
I have used various of their flours before and have been very pleased with the results. This, though, is one of my still experimental times trying their smoked flour. I have to say, I am extremely delighted with the results so far...
And my recipe...
340g stone-ground oak smoked flour
½ tsp Maldon sea salt
1 tsp creme of tartar
1 tsp creme of tartar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Turn the oven on to 200C and flour a baking sheet ready.
In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, salt and bicarb of soda. Mix lightly together then make a well and add the buttermilk. Stir gentle with a fork to mix everything in. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and with floured hands very lightly knead-do not over knead as this will result in a heavy loaf. Try not to add too much extra flour to the kneading surface as this will make the loaf too dry. Shape into a round and place on the floured baking sheet. Lightly flour the top of the loaf and then cut the top with two slashes-one horizontally and the other vertically before placing in the oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Check if done by tapping on its bottom to get that desired hollow sound signifying it is done.
Allow to cool for as long as you can bear without succumbing to that just baked bread aroma wafting around, then gently slice and enjoy...
Really recommended with a tasty cheese and balsamic pickled shallots or perhaps some homemade smoked mackerel pate. It also goes surprisingly well with sweet toppings such as an aromatic heather honey.
So tonight’s very lazy supper is some Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese (note to Mark there is still some left)-with a couple of slices of my Welsh Smoked Soda Bread, Balsamic Pickled Shallots and Balsamic Pumpkin Chutney. A truly satisfying end to a beautiful day...
Now let us hope we will have another magnificent day tomorrow to enjoy...